Even as a young child, I wanted to know more about my family history; who they were, how they lived. I would enjoy listening to my parents, aunts, uncles; grandparents talk about anything to do with our family history. My paternal grandmother Ellen Barrett Danner spent her adult life searching for any clues she could on her family history. For my 14th birthday I asked for my own “Book of Remembrance”; so I could start to compile my family history as my grandma Ellen had. This was before the internet was used by us common folk so I had to learn how the “Old Timers” started their family research the old fashion way with paper and pen in hand I started to work on my family history. I took a family history class with my parents in the mid 1970’s, yes I am dating myself. I am old, just not as old as my one daughter thought when she was young she asked if I had lived on the earth when Christ was alive ;). When we took our family vacations I remember going with my older brother Fred, around to the cemeteries and would write down all the names of those who we thought we might be related to. Then we went back to our grandma to tell us everything she knows about the names we had found. When my adult life came with its many responsibilities, somehow my Book of Remembrance got tucked away as I raised my own children, and the years turned into many decades before I got my book back out to work on.
Now, as a more seasoned lady with grandchildren I find I want to rekindle me passion for exploring my family history, finding out who my ancestors were, and not just their names and dates. The Internet has made genealogy research faster and easier by providing many historical resources online, allowing many of us to quickly and easily find information about our ancestors. But, what advice could I find to where I need to start back up and enjoy the increasingly popular hobby of genealogy. I am finding that no matter how long I am at this research, I am always learning new ideas of discovery from others who also enjoy this same hobby of family research. I am always open to any help, advice or tips from anyone willing to send some my way.
Here is a few of the tips I have learned along the way:
- Before you begin your family history research, it is a good idea to focus on what you want to achieve. Do you wish to pursue the paternal (male) line with its continuity of surname, or the maternal (female) line, or perhaps even verify a family legend? You may find that the decision is made for you, if the research proves difficult. If, however, you decide to pursue more than one line, be sure to keep your research organized and file the results separately to avoid confusion.
- The golden rule in family history research is to try to work backwards from what you already know. As such, family history truly does begin at home and you may be surprised at how much you already know or have access to within your own extended family. It is not necessary to have a lot of detail to start, but it makes sense to log whatever information is readily available and to seek out further details from relatives. Begin by recording your own details – date and place of birth, marriage, spouse, children – then the details of your parents, grandparents and so on as you recall them.
- Information from relatives can increase your knowledge of the family, but a patient and tactful approach is required. Family anecdotes can become distorted with the passage of time, but should still be noted for later verification. Be sure to interview your relatives, especially the older ones, as they may have information about your ancestors that you won’t find in any database. Write everything down for future reference. Getting in touch with your relatives may often prove to be a rewarding and enriching experience.
- How successful you are in researching your family history is determined by a number of factors, many of which are beyond your control. Your success can depend on the survival of records, how common your surname is; your family’s social status and level of literacy, and the possibility of transcription errors. However, success can also depend on your own tenacity, keeping an open mind and not taking anything for granted, being methodical, approaching a problem from more than one angle and corroborating any evidence you may find. In spite of the occasional “brick wall”, you may find that the genealogy hunt itself is almost as exciting as the thrill of discovery. One thing I have started doing is once I find the dates and place of a family member, I go look up that area’s history during that time period, so I can get a better understanding what the living environment of my family was living.
- Most families possess old documents or photographs, which can be of use to the family historian. Examples of documents you might find, which can significantly aid your research, are: Birth, marriage and death certificates, obituaries, family bible, school certificates, university/school graduation certificates and awards, military service records, business papers, immigration papers, travel documents, diaries, address books, birthday books, letters, postcards, newspaper cuttings and memoirs.
- Go through old family photographs and see how many people you recognize. Show the photos to older relatives to help jog their memory. Try to ask them to identify as many faces as possible, so that this information is preserved. Any information that can be gathered from within the family can help establish a foundation on which to build your family history.
- Libraries and bookshops stock a range of material on family history. You may want to consider joining a family history society in your area. For a small annual fee you will receive all the benefits of membership (magazine, research facilities, well-stocked libraries, research services, ready advice) and meet like-minded individuals. Consider also joining a society in the area in which you are conducting research. You can also turn to the Internet for an active genealogy community. You can find forums in which to post questions, read answers, hear about others’ successes and failures, and find additional resources.
- The family tree is the nucleus of any family history research and putting it together is often an exciting journey that can play out like a detective story. Maintaining the family tree information that you accumulate on paper notes may quickly get out of hand, so use genealogy software to help you keep track of the various individuals in your family tree and the relationships between them. Family Tree Builder is a good choice for this. It’s free, supports multiple languages, offers a very easy interface to enter and review data, and allows you to organize your entire photo collection according to the relatives pictured.
- The Internet offers a wealth of genealogy data, but this information is scattered and difficult to find. To save time, use the dedicated genealogy search engines like, familysearch.com, ancestry.com, or one of the other ones that are now available online. I use several and this helps me find information on one that might not be on the other.
- Once you have put together your family tree, collected some interesting old photos of your family and gathered family legends, stories and anecdotes, don’t keep this treasure to yourself! I invested in a wonderful scanner and have made use of scanning many family treasures to share online with others. They will be able to contribute more to your research and perhaps help you fill in missing information. Distant relatives can also find you this way so that long-lost cousins can reunite as a result of your efforts. I have even used my Facebook to create several family pages and share some of my family tree and family history gems, including photos, documents, stories and more. I than invited all my relatives to become members in my different sites and open some areas in my site for access to guests from the Internet. This is just a start, but it’s a means for me to share what I have, and hopefully others with start to share their family finds. What’s nice about this is even if they might not be interested at this time, it will always be there for them to go look and learn from when it’s convenient in their own lives. It a place to share and learn from others about your family history.
- So what is some advice, or tips you have on how to start doing family research?
- My personal block is 1400’s Switzerland family with surname Tanner who change it to Danner around the 1600. My 12th Paternal Great Grandfather is Sebastian Tanner, the only data I have on him is: Birth 1489 in Bern, Switzerland, Death in Switzerland; Wife was Barbara Zwyer. Their son, Johann Jakob Tanner is my 11th great-grandfather, his data is Birth 19 Jul 1510 in Lichtenberg, Bas-Rhin, France; Death 22 Mar 1570. Anyone have advice of any leads I could look to find information of my 1400 Swiss Family history?